Trump, Pence back at Washington to deliver speeches as rivals
Former President Donald Trump is returning to Washington Tuesday for the first time since leaving office, delivering a speech hours after his former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential 2024 rival, called on the party to stop looking backward.
Trump's appearance in in the nation's capital — his first trip back since Jan. 20, 2021, when President Joe Biden was sworn into office — comes as some who are mulling runs have been increasingly willing to challenge him directly. They include Pence, who on Tuesday outlined his "Freedom Agenda " not far from where Trump was to speak before an allied think tank that has been crafting an agenda for a possible second term.
While Trump still often complains about the election he claims was stolen from him a year and a half ago, Pence said, "Some people may choose to focus on the past, but elections are about the future."
"I believe conservatives must focus on the future to win back America," Pence said before the Young America's Foundation, a student conservative group. "We can't afford to take our eyes off the road in front of us because what's at stake is the very survival of our way of life."
The former White House partners are making dueling appearances again after campaigning for rival candidates in Arizona Friday. And they come amid news that Pence's former chief of staff, Marc Short, has testified before a federal grand jury investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Short was at the Capitol that day as Pence fled an angry mob of rioters who called for his hanging after Trump wrongly insisted Pence had the power to overturn to the election results.
Asked about the growing divide between Trump and himself, a man who was once the former president's most loyal sidekick, Pence said the two don't differ on issues.
"But we may differ on focus. I truly do believe that elections are about the future and that it's absolutely essential at a time when so many Americans are hurting and so many families are struggling, that we don't give way to the temptation to look back," he said.
Pence had also planned to deliver a speech at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on the eve of Trump's visit, but that was postponed because his plane was diverted by bad weather.)
Trump's speech comes as allies have urged him to spend more time talking about his vision for the future and less time relitigating the 2020 election as he prepares to announce an expected 2024 White House campaign.
"I believe it will be a very policy-focused, forward-leaning speech, very much like a State of the Union 5.0," said Brooke Rollins, president of at the America First Policy Institute, which is holding the two-day America First Agenda Summit.
Composed of former Trump administration officials and allies, the nonprofit is widely seen as an "administration in waiting" that could quickly move to the West Wing if Trump should run again and win.
Trump has spent much of his time since leaving office fixated on the 2020 election and spreading lies about his loss to sow doubt about Biden's victory. Indeed, even as the House Jan. 6 committee was laying bare his desperate attempts to remain in power and his refusal to call off a violent mob of his supporters as they tried to halt the peaceful transition of power, Trump has continued to try to pressure officials to overturn Biden's win, despite there being no legal means to decertify it.
On Tuesday, he planned to focus on public safety.
"President Trump sees a nation in decline that is driven, in part, by rising crime and communities becoming less safe under Democrat policies," said his spokesman, Taylor Budowich.
Beyond the summit, staff at the America First Policy Institute have been laying their own groundwork for the future, "making sure we do have the policies, personnel and process nailed down for every key agency when we do take the White House back," Rollins said.
The nonprofit developed, she said, from efforts to avoid the chaotic early days of Trump's first term, when he arrived at the White House with no clear plans ready to put in place. As Trump was running for reelection, Rollins, then the head of Trump's Domestic Policy Council, began to sketch out a second-term agenda with fellow administration officials, including top economic policy adviser Larry Kudlow and national security adviser Robert O'Brien.
When it became clear Trump would be leaving the White House, she said, AFPI was created to continue that work "organized around that second term agenda that we never released."
The organization, once dismissed as a landing zone for ex-Trump administration officials shut out of more lucrative jobs, has grown into a behemoth, with an operating budget of around $25 million and 150 staff, including 17 former senior White Houses officials and nine former Cabinet members.
The group also has more than 20 policy centers and has tried to extend its reach beyond Washington with efforts to influence local legislatures and school boards. An "American leadership initiative," led by the former head of the Office of Personnel Management, Michael Rigas, launched several weeks ago to identify future staff loyal to Trump and his "America First" approach who could be hired as part of a larger effort to replace large swaths of the civil service, as Axios recently reported.
The group is one of several Trump-allied organizations that have continued to push his polices in his absence, including America First Legal, dedicated to fighting Biden's agenda through the court system, the Center for Renewing America and the Conservative Partnership Institute.